Sunday, March 7, 2010

Freedom = last choice

A Washington Post columnist weighed in on the killer whale who killed a trainer in a Florida SeaWorld. Kathleen Parker cited her cousin, Heidi Harley, as a “dolphin shrink” – she’s actually a former trainer and orca-rider at Miami’s Seaquarium, and now a cognitive psychology prof in Sarasota.

Harley’s reported “accomplishments” include teaching dolphins to sing the theme song to “Batman” and creating an alphabet that allows dolphins and humans to “speak.” (Is she kidding? Is this what dolphins were meant to do?)

Parker regrets that humans “love and protect whales” by making them into performers (!) instead of turning them over to scientists (presumably including her cousin) for cognitive study. Such scientists want to determine “what a whale knows,” because now, “only a whale knows what a whale knows.” (I am not making this up.)

Toward the end of her column, Parker acknowledges such questions as “Should whales be in captivity and exploited as circus acts?” Then she points out: “That, ultimately, is a values question,” without mentioning that cognitive research on whales is too.

“Should we have zoos? Eat meat? Drive SUVs?” she asks, obviously thinking the automatic answer is “YES!” and how silly it would be to think otherwise. In reality, for many of us, all three, along with the captivity question, should be answered “NO!”

And if we won’t submit whales to researchers, Parker closes, “leave them to their own devices, possibly elsewhere.” Freedom as a last resort.

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